In what she’s tagged as her Summer Salad Series, Maine food writer Candace Pilk Karu fills her social media feed with plated pickings from her own garden and from farms beyond her home in Portland’s West End. Karu has presented photos of her Tuscan pasta salad with giardiniera dressing; bacon, lettuce and tomato salad with blue cheese dressing; and blackened Maine haddock taco salad.

Summer salads are my jam, too. But they are not always as carefully curated as Karu’s. They typically arise from a last-ditch effort to put a second vegetable on the table to fill the bellies of both kids who are unexpectedly back under my roof courtesy of COVID-19. Other than the tomato, basil and fresh mozzarella–packed Caprese salad that seems to be snarfed up as soon as it’s set on the table, my family cries “Uncle” to my hastily chopped concoctions offered at most meals. The cries get more audible later in the week, as we inch toward our Saturday morning CSA share pickup. Even I must admit the combinations can get wonky come Friday night. Shredded beets, sliced carrots and the last of the fresh fennel worked nicely. Quick-pickled chard and mushroom stems sprinkled over egg salad rightly raised some eyebrows.

Friday night fried rice seems to be a more palatable means of using up the vegetables in the bottom of the bin at the week’s end. As a bonus, it’s an opportunity to dispatch any left-over rice from Wednesday or Thursday because cooked, chilled rice — unlike fresh rice — doesn’t get mushy when stir-fried.

I shy away from using long-grained rice varieties like Basmati and Thai Jasmine for this purpose because, while they are very fragrant, the grains tend to break down when cooked a second time. Medium-grained white rice like you find in most Chinese restaurants offers textural balance: partly sticky makes it easy to eat with chopsticks while individualized grains give it texture. It is less fragrant than the long grain varieties, yes, but that makes it more accepting of the many kinds of vegetables you may throw into the fried rice mix. My favorite rice to fry is short-grained sushi rice. It’s got plenty of starch, so you do have to make sure to break up the big clumps while stirring, but its chewier texture is very satisfying.

My fried rice rules are simple, but they are not authentic to any specific Asian cuisine. I use a non-stick pan in which I always scramble the egg first. Traditional recipes employ a super-hot wok and scramble an egg right into the rice. My home range can’t give a wok the heat it requires to make any stir-fried dish I cook at home really sizzle. I find adding already cooked eggs to the rice makes it easier for the pickier eaters at my table to pick them out.

I add flavor to this dish with aromatics at the beginning of the cooking process (shallot, garlic and ginger) and chopped herbs (basil, cilantro or mint) just before serving. I also season it very softly with a bit of soy sauce or shio koji , a pinch of ground white pepper and — when I take the fried rice off the heat — a drizzle of toasted sesame oil. This light touch gives me leeway to use a host of left-over cooked vegetables even those that are already seasoned with, say, curry powder or red pepper flakes. Should eaters want to turn up the heat, I serve a soy-chili sauce at the table alongside the finished fried rice.

I maintain a 1:1 ratio of chopped vegetables to cooked rice. When I add them to the sizzling vegetable oil depends on whether they are raw or cooked. Raw ones, like carrots and cabbage cut to be of similar size and shape, get two minutes in the hot oil before I add the rice. The rice needs to sit and sizzle with these vegetables another 2-3 minutes to absorb their flavor and pick up a bit of caramelized color itself. Then already cooked vegetables — anything from roasted broccoli to frozen peas — as well as that pre-scrambled egg, get tossed in for the last two minutes of cooking time, which warms them without turning them to mush.

Serve this dish with grilled chicken, eggplant, fish, pork or tofu, and your eaters certainly won’t complain about eating leftovers.

CHRISTINE BURNS RUDALEVIGE is a food writer, recipe developer and tester, and cooking teacher in Brunswick, and the author of “Green Plate Special,” a cookbook from Islandport based on these columns. She can be contacted at [email protected]

Columnist Christine Burns Rudalevige drizzles fried rice with toasted sesame oil just before serving it. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

Refrigerator Scraps Fried Rice

This rice is lightly seasoned. I serve it with a spicy soy sauce should eaters want to amp up the flavor of their portions themselves at the table. To make that, I combine 2 tablespoons soy sauce with 2 tablespoons water, 1 teaspoon rice vinegar and 1/2 teaspoon sambal olek.

Serves 2-4

2 cups cold rice

2 cups cooked or raw vegetables

2 eggs, beaten

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1/4 cup chopped onion or shallot

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 tablespoon minced ginger root

1 tablespoon soy sauce or shiyo koji

White pepper

1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

Chopped basil, cilantro or mint

Smooth out the lumps in the rice. Divide the cooked from the raw vegetables and chop each set into small pieces.

Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add the eggs and cook until they are firmly set.  Transfer the cooked eggs to a bowl and break them up into pieces the size of your cut-up vegetables.

Return the pan to the stove, this time over medium high heat. Add the vegetable oil and onion or shallot, garlic, ginger and raw vegetables.  Cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the rice and stir to combine.  Cook for 3-4 minutes until the rice is hot and starting to brown just a bit. Add the soy sauce or shiyo koji and the white pepper to taste (I add about 1/4 teaspoon). Add the cooked vegetables and eggs and stir to combine. Cook for 2 minutes more until all ingredients are hot.

Transfer to a serving bowl, drizzle with sesame oil and sprinkle with herbs and serve hot.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: